Non-BBC channels could get slice of licence fee

Author: Press Association

This could amount to £130 million a year from 2013 for ITV local news, shows
for children and other important but less profitable programming.

The proposal formed part of the Government’s wide-ranging Digital Britain
report, which made recommendations on everything from bringing broadband to
rural areas to supporting the UK’s computer games industry.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw also said the Government intended to upgrade
all national radio stations from analogue to digital by 2015.

Mr Bradshaw said a “strong, confident and independent” BBC was “more
important than ever”.

But former BBC employee Mr Bradshaw said it was in the corporation’s interest
to evolve into a “public service partner” with other media
outlets.

He said the Government had been encouraging talks between BBC Worldwide and
Channel 4 and “we are ready to help in any way we can”.

Mr Bradshaw said he agreed with concerns raised by MPs about the need for a “plurality
of provision” of local and regional news and welcomed the BBC’s
response supporting partnerships – but said that alone would not be enough.

Turning to the licence fee, he said there was “nothing in either the BBC
Charter, or legislation, to say that the BBC must have exclusive rights to it”.

So, he told MPs: “Independent of the level at which the licence fee is
set after 2014, we will consult on the option of sharing a small element of
it post-2013 to help ensure high quality, plural provision, particularly in
the regions and nations.”

Pilot projects will be set up in Scotland, Wales and one English region before
2013, he said.

The Communications Minister Lord Carter, who compiled the The Digital Britain
report, explained why the Government was going to consultation over the idea
of ring-fencing part of the licence fee, primarily for funding news.

He said: “This is a significant decision to change the way in which the
licence fee would be spent. We are not running a referendum on it. We will
take the licence feepayers’ view.”

He said the Government would “absolutely” take opinions from the BBC
Trust and Ofcom into account.

He continued: “But ultimately, it’s also right for the Government to
decide what it’s going to do. If people come to us with another idea, great,
then let’s look at that idea. But having looked at it, our starter for £130
million is contained contestability.”

Lord Carter said the Government was willing to help facilitate potential
partnerships between BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm, and Channel 4.

But he added that it would not be a “forced marriage”.

He said: “If in commercial terms BBC Worldwide and Channel 4 wished to
come together in a joint venture and if it required some debt financing the
Government stands ready to facilitate it.”

A major section of the 238-page report concentrated on how best to ensure
strong competition to the BBC in public service broadcasting.

It noted that the old model of commercial broadcasters – where lucrative
advertising paid for worthy programmes like high-end drama, documentaries
and investigative journalism – was proving unsustainable.

The BBC has made “welcome” offers to work in partnership with its rivals in
some areas such as local news, the report said.

But it went on: “On their own they may well be insufficient to meet the scale
of the challenge facing public service provision, particularly in nations,
regional and local news, where rival news agendas and journalistic inquiry
are central to pluralism.”

The report announced the launch of three pilot schemes next year – one in
Scotland, one in Wales and one in an English region – where consortia of
media organisations would produce local news for ITV.

It noted: “Consortia are likely to be able to produce news more
cost-effectively than existing Channel 3 (ITV) licensees using assets
designed for a different era.

“The result could be a greater investment in journalism, news-gathering and
multi-media distribution and syndication than today, enhancing the quality
of news in the nations, regionally and locally.”

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